On transparency, intimidation, and being called a shill

A while back, a group of scientists involved in research or communication about various aspects of biotechnology (GMOs) were the subjects of freedom of information requests. Keith Kloor, who broke the story in Science, also posted one of the letters sent to the University of Illinois. The request asks for all emails in the last 2+ years between the scientists and a long list of companies. Gary Ruskin, an activist funded by the Organic Consumers Association, is making these requests while suggesting the …

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GMOs, Herbicides, and the New England Journal of Medicine

An opinion piece was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by Dr. Philip Landrigan (an M.D.) and Dr. Charles Benbrook (PhD) titled “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health”. I was asked to review the piece this week, and I can only assume it will eventually make the rounds on social media. So I thought it was worth commenting here since it is related to herbicides and herbicide-resistant GMO crops. The “Perspective” piece is basically a plea from Dr. Landrigan and Dr. …

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An Evaluation of the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ)

I’ve always been interested in how changes in agricultural production practices impact the environment. In particular, I’ve followed the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops since I was an undergraduate, and try to stay up to date on research relating to the environmental impact associated with these crops. Several publications over the last decade have relied on the environmental impact quotient (EIQ) to quantify the environmental impact of changes in pesticide use resulting from GM crops. The EIQ originated with a …

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Trends in corn herbicide use (1990 to 2014)

USDA-NASS recently published the most recent corn herbicide use data (from 2014). I’ve been looking through the data, because, well, free data! Perhaps the figure below isn’t the ideal way to present it, but there are some interesting trends that can be observed this way. Total herbicide use in corn (in weight of herbicide applied) has remained relatively constant at about 2 to 2.5 lbs/acre since around 2000 (Top panel A). There have certainly been changes in which herbicides contributed to that …

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What does Chipotle’s switch to non-GMO ingredients mean for pesticide use?

A couple weeks ago, Chipotle announced they were removing genetically engineered crops (called GMOs) from their menu. Kind of. As you might expect, the announcement was covered widely in the media. Interestingly, though, most of the coverage wasn’t very positive. There’s a fairly long list of responses to the Chipotle decision if you’d like to read more about it. A variety of issues are covered in those responses, but I wanted to take a deeper look into the impact this switch might …

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Stop saying organic food is less safe, unless you can provide evidence

A recent article from Western Producer titled “Canada has a world-class food system” was recently re-posted by the Genetic Literacy Project (GLP). GLP, whose stated mission is to “explore the intersection of DNA research, media and policy to disentangle science from ideology”, commonly aggregates news stories. But when they re-posted this particular article, the headline was changed pretty dramatically, to “WHO study finds thousands of illnesses linked annually to organic foods.” After some criticism in the comments, it was later changed to remove …

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Glyphosate and Cancer: What does the data say?

A little over a week ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that glyphosate would be added to their list of agents that are “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate wasn’t the only pesticide added to the list, but as Nathanael Johnson noted at Grist, glyphosate tends to be something of a lightning rod due to its association with genetically engineered (Roundup Ready) crops. Let me start by pointing out I’m pretty late to the party writing about this. The …

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A 40 year veteran of weed research reflects on his career

Bob Wilson, the weed specialist at the University of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research & Extension Center is retiring this month. Dr. Wilson has been a long-time mentor to me, serving as advisor for my M.S. and co-advisor for my PhD. Since then, we’ve collaborated on many projects aimed at helping sugarbeet producers better manage difficult weeds. UNL’s Crop Watch has a really nice writeup today about some of his career highlights. He discusses some of his thoughts about changes in weed …

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Glyphosate use in wheat

A blog post titled “The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic” has been making the rounds on social media. The post by the “healthy home economist” is riddled with errors and misinformation.The post contends that glyphosate is commonly sprayed on wheat at harvest time, and that glyphosate then causes health problems when the wheat is consumed. Shortly after it started circulating, two excellent rebuttals were posted online, one by Sarah Schultz, and another by Jenny Dewey Rohrich. Both Sarah and Jenny …

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Superweeds: A Mutating Problem

Superweeds have been in been in the news a lot over the last few months. Most of the recent coverage has been related to new 2,4-D resistant crops that were recently approved by the USDA and the new herbicide formulation (2,4-D plus glyphosate) that the EPA is reviewing. Marc Brazeau recently wrote a compelling piece arguing that our focus on superweeds in GMO crops draws attention away from solutions that could really help make modern agriculture more sustainable. I’ve written about …

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